Poker is more than just a game of sheer luck and chance—it also requires deliberate strategy and constant practice. In order to hone the necessary skills to progress from amateur to advanced, you need to focus on becoming a more educated, tactical player.
Are each of your moves calculated and intentional? Are you evaluating, not just your own hand, but what’s happening around the table? Are there distinct motives behind the strategies you default to? Exploring the answers to these questions will improve your poker game significantly, and the pointers below can steer you in that direction.
Record Your Moves and Review Them Later.
It’s a smart idea to develop the habit of bringing a notebook with you to the poker table and writing down each of your moves to critique after the game. The process of reviewing your hands can decrease your margin of error in the long-term because it teaches you how to analyze the motivations that prompted you to take certain risks, place specific bets or fold particular hands. This objective approach also trains you to pinpoint which moves were successful and which, in hindsight, were erroneous. Once you ascertain what caused the mistake, you can formulate new strategies and make the required adjustments to dodge that pitfall in your next game.
Study and Engage with Training Materials.
There are a wide variety of educational resources on the internet that give you an insider’s perspective on how seasoned players with winning track-records approach the game. These videos, blogs, e-books, podcasts and forums are meant to be interacted with experientially, not just consumed for entertainment. So ensure the training methods are geared toward your stakes level, then focus on what the coaches are doing from all vantage points. If you are watching a video, take notes like an academic lecture. If you are reading a book or article, dissect it like a college textbook. Then execute the practical applications from these materials in a real-time poker game.
Learn to Assess Your Opponent’s Behavior.
One of the main distinctions between a mediocre player and a standout player is learning to recognize an opponent’s tell. If you want to increase your chances of success at the table, you have to be attuned to how other players are behaving and what strategies they’re utilizing. You can gauge the value of another person’s hand just by watching their facial expressions, mannerisms and body language. These nonverbal cues—or tells—indicate your opponent’s confidence in their own likelihood of winning, so it’s imperative to discreetly notice a tell and derive its meaning. These are common tells to be aware of during a poker game and which kind of hand they reveal:
- Winning (or Strong) Hand Tells:
- Tense shoulders or shaky fingers
- Rigid and attentive posture
- Impatient or erratic side-glances
- Flexed muscles in the face
- Rapid breathing or flared nostrils
- Wide and unblinking eyes
- Flushed cheeks and furtive smile
- Losing (or Weak) Hand Tells:
- Squinting or excessive blinking
- Pursing, licking or biting lips
- Holding breath or inhaling sharply
- Crossing arms over the body
- Staring blankly off into space
- Acting carelessly toward cards
- Faking a large and obvious smile
The most effective method of honing your poker game is to learn by doing. So frequent the tables as often as possible to gain firsthand experience, then commit to increasing your knowledge of the finer-points and tactical nuances in your down time. The more exposure you have to the world of poker, the more your own game is likely to improve.
Mats Johnson is an Executive Director and Chief Marketing Officer at VGW, the company that revolutionized the social gaming industry with their Chumba Casino and Global Poker brands. Over the past two decades, Johnson has held many senior positions in online gaming including General Manager at Centrebet, Director at Coral Eurobet, Chief Executive Officer at Playsafe and CMO at Expekt. When Johnson isn’t working he enjoys playing poker and skydiving.